The key points from Andy Burnham's latest Covid-19 update

Wednesday, February 17th, 2021 6:56pm

By Joseph Timan, Local Democracy Reporter @josephtiman

Andy Burnham held his weekly press conference on Wednesday afternoon (17 February), sharing the latest updates on the coronavirus situation in Greater Manchester.

The mayor was joined by his deputy for policing and crime, Baroness Beverley Hughes, who revealed the latest data on compliance with Covid-related rules.

She reported a ‘resurgence’ in very large gatherings including a wedding in Oldham, a party in the Beetham Tower and a yoga session in Stockport.

Pressure is easing in Greater Manchester’s hospitals, the metro mayor revealed, but he said the ‘flickering up’ in Covid cases in Bury and Tameside is a cause for concern, as is a ‘surprising’ rise in cases within care homes.

The latest figures on vaccinations, including how many people who have not accepted the jab, was also revealed as the mayor called on the government to consider opening up the mass vaccination centre at the Etihad to over-50s.

He also called on the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to reconsider its recent decision not to classify Covid as a ‘serious’ workplace risk.

The mayor also answered questions about rail investment in the North and ‘industrial blackmail’ by companies putting pressure on their employees.

Here’s everything you need to know from this week’s press conference.

Etihad vaccination centre should be opened up to younger people

The mayor, who visited the mass vaccination centre at the Etihad last week, praised the ‘dedicated’ staff running the operation overseen by NHS England.

But he said many people are choosing to ‘go local’, meaning the facility is often operating below 50 per cent capacity – and ‘much lower’ than that on some days.

Mr Burnham said there is a ‘strong case’ to use the full capacity at the Etihad and called on the government to consider opening it up to everyone over 50.

He said: “The vaccination programme is going really well. But obviously as we enter new phases, new challenges will arise and I think it’s becoming clear now that we need to open up the mass vaccination centre to people who are perhaps younger, more mobile.”

He also suggested allowing Greater Manchester to use spare capacity at the Etihad, but said that opening up the national booking system would be simpler.

Health and Safety Executive should class Covid a ‘serious’ workplace risk

The mayor said his office has continued to receive complaints from members of the public about certain workplaces as it has throughout the pandemic.

He believes there has not been enough focus on workplace safety over the last year and criticised the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) for classifying Covid-19 as a ‘signficant’ workplace risk, but not a ‘serious’ one.

Mr Burnham called on the government to ask HSE to reconsider its decision.

He said: “HSE point to the fact that the vast majority of people recover from Covid, but we don’t believe in a pandemic situation where many people have not recovered that that is the appropriate judgement to reach.”

He also reiterated calls for the government to consider ‘more substantial’ self-isolation payments with legal protections for workers who have to self-isolate.

‘Flickering up’ of cases in Bury and Tameside rising is a ’cause for concern’

Although Greater Manchester overall infection rate has now ‘dipped’ below 200 cases per 100,000 people, two boroughs have seen an increase.

Bury’s seven-day rate of cases was 205.8 per 100,000 in the week ending February 12, up from 196.3, while Tameside’s rate was 200, up from 186.8.

The mayor said he has been advised that ‘caution’ was the right way to go.

He said: “The flickering up in case rates in some of our boroughs – and it happened in Bolton in the last couple of weeks as well – is a cause for concern.

“We think that is linked to the transmissibility of the new strains and the speed with which they can go through certain areas.

“All of this creates a volatile situation that needs to be managed down further before we can see a much more substantial unlocking of the economy.”

‘Resurgence’ in very large gatherings

Baroness Beverley Hughes revealed increases in reports of Covid breaches.

Greater Manchester Police dealt with 1,205 Covid-related incidents in the seven days up to Monday, February 15 and issued 228 Fixed Penalty Notices.

One ‘very large’ event in Salford resulted in 32 Fixed Penalty Notices of £800.

Police released footage of a large party in the Beetham Tower on Deansgate running from Friday night through Saturday, ending up in a 50-person fight.

The owner is now being pursued for a £10,000 fine as is the organiser of a ‘very large yoga gathering’ in Stockport, the deputy mayor revealed.

Other incidents included a ‘works party’ in an industrial estate in Salford and a wedding party in Oldham, alongside a recent rise in gyms found to be open.

Nine in 10 over-70s have been vaccinated – but 72,000 have not

The mayor described the news that 90 pc of over-70s have had their first vaccination as an ‘incredible achievement’ which is ‘something to celebrate’.

He also revealed that nearly half of all over-50s in Greater Manchester have now been vaccinated and 29 pc of all over-18s have had their first jab too.

The total number of people having received their first dose is now 639,128.

But he revealed that 72,000 people have not accepted the vaccine so far.

He said: “We’re not giving up on them. We are going to try and persuade more and more of them to come forward. It might be that some of them are housebound and it’s taken longer to get to those people, but I know that colleagues in primary care are going to continue to work on that.”

Hospital pressures have eased, but still high numbers

The number of weekly admissions to Greater Manchester’s hospitals for Covid-19 has fallen to 193, almost half as many as at the end of January.

Around 83 pc of hospitals are currently occupied within the local NHS system and 17 pc of hospital patients have Covid, down from 30 pc a few weeks ago.

The mayor said there has also been a ‘slight easing’ of pressure in critical care.

He said: “There’s certainly signs of improvement. It’s early to say that the NHS is, if you like, in a position where it’s out of the woods.

“But it’s obviously positive news to see this improvement.”

Mr Burnham did, however, reveal there has been an increase in Covid cases within care homes, with 292 people confirmed or showing symptoms.

Mayor is ‘open to the idea’ of vaccine passports

When asked about the hospitality sector, Mr Burnham said he is personally open to the idea of ‘vaccine passports’ being used when venues reopen.

This could allow some venues to safely reopen to the public quicker, he said.

But he said there are a lot of issues to be considered with this idea.

He said: “It’s something that we need to think about as a part of a wider support package for the hospitality industry.”

Mr Burnham also said that furlough and other forms of financial support should remain in place until the hospitality industry is allowed to reopen.

Rail investment in the North is being ‘downgraded’ and ‘delayed’

The mayor was asked about reports that Transport for the North, a body of Northern leaders lobbying for railways, is being ‘gagged’ by the government.

It comes after the Department for Transport reportedly asked for some discussions with the board to take place in private and not be published.

He said he is worried that Northern Powerhouse Rail is being ‘downgraded’ and ‘delayed’, saying this is not consistent with promises made to the North.

But he would wait to hear the arguments made at tomorrow’s board meeting.

He said: “What we’re not prepared to accept is that these critical decisions for the North of England on rail investment that will affect us for the next century are just going to be imposed on us from Whitehall.

“I think we’re all absolutely clear that that is not acceptable and we’re not going to accept second best and we’re not going to accept a situation where all of the money is blown on HS2 in the South of the country leaving us to make the cuts up in the North.”

Big companies must ‘build back better’ and ‘build back fairer’

The mayor met with bus company Go North West and Unite the Union last week to discuss an industrial dispute with bus drivers due to start soon.

He thanked both sides for recognising the need to resolve the issue and agreeing to come to a negotiated settlement supported by ACAS.

But he criticised companies threatening to use Section 188 notices to fire and rehire staff as a tactic to ‘unilaterally renegotiate’ their employment contracts.

He said: “That is industrial blackmail as far as I’m concerned. I don’t believe it’s appropriate given the situation we’re all in this time.

“It absolutely falls to the bigger corporate entities to build back better. This does not seem like build back better or build back fairer to me.

“It’s the worst kind of tactics coming out of this, further destabilizing people at a very difficult time for everybody.”

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